September 2018: Joining the dots

What Cuneo Airport lacks in size, it more than makes up for with its ambition to succeed. Anna Milanese tells Chloë Greenbank why she still gets a buzz from seeing the airport being added to airline route maps.

Cuneo Airport might be one of Italy’s smallest airports, but that doesn’t mean that Anna Milanese, the airport’s general manager, has an easy ride. Far from it.

“As a small regional airport, the main challenge we face is standing out from the crowd,” Milanese says referring to the high level of competition that Cuneo and airports like it face when it comes to attracting new carriers and developing its network reach.

The airport is ideally situated in Piedmont in Northern Italy, in close proximity to the wine-growing district of Langhe, Roero and Monferrato – which have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The region is often cited for its stunning landscape and rich culinary traditions, including the Slow Food movement. What’s more, the region of Piedmont also has one of Italy’s highest GDP per capita and the airport is just 60 km from the city of Turin, to which it offers good surface access. “I am aware of the huge and still unexplored potential that Cuneo Airport has. Increasing awareness of the airport and its position as a gateway to all that this stunning region has to offer is something we are committed to developing further.”

Marketing roots

Bringing a diverse range of skills to her role as general manager, Milanese started working at the airport in 2004, just after it had opened a new terminal. She initially joined the marketing team before rising through the ranks to her current position. Prior to working at the airport, she had been in a marketing and communications role with one of Italy’s biggest tour operators, Alpitour, before taking a year out to work for a non-governmental organisation in Cape Verde helping establish a sustainable tourism project.

The airport is currently managed and owned by Societa Gestione Aeroporto Cuneo (GEAC S.p.A), which Milanese reveals was privatised earlier this year and is now 80% owned by shareholders and 20% owned by the local Chamber of Commerce. However, she underlines that GEAC remains “committed to developing the airport as a gateway for the region and related air traffic.”

The low-cost revolution

With the majority of the airport’s traffic originating from Northern, Eastern and Southern Europe, Cuneo is primarily served by five main carriers: Ryanair, Air Arabia, Ernest, Albawings and TUI. “Our focus is currently on extending our network throughout these regions and enticing airlines to connect with Cuneo,” offers Milanese. She underlines the importance of offering existing and new carriers “a tailor-made marketing campaign that promotes the airport and surrounding region,” but she also recognises the need to provide value and ensure that Cuneo offers a cost-effective solution for airlines too.”

The low-cost travel revolution has been instrumental in the airport’s growth in recent years. “Low-fare travel has presented a great opportunity for airports like Cuneo and our no-frills approach is perfectly suited to low-cost carriers as we can be competitive with our offering.”

Looking beyond the airlines, Milanese admits that non-aeronautical revenue plays a crucial role in the airport’s business model, accounting for around 62% of the actual value of output. “The biggest contributors are the car parking and leasing of hangars for private aircrafts,” she reveals.

Working alongside the local tourist board is also integral to the airport’s growth. “It’s a reciprocal relationship and it’s vital that we work hand in hand with Cuneo Tourist Board. Wherever possible we involve them in our campaigns and its equally important that we are involved in their activities too when relevant,” says Milanese.

“We are currently focusing our attention on the wine-growing districts of Langhe and Roero, which are attracting a growing VIP clientele and business passengers,” she adds, hinting that business and general aviation is an area that the airport hopes to develop further.

X marks the spot

Convincing airlines to think beyond their preconceptions and embrace all that Cuneo and the surrounding region has to offer hasn’t always been easy, but Milanese admits it’s been a challenge worth accepting. She still gets a buzz out of seeing Cuneo marked up on an airline’s route map. “When I first started to approach airlines about serving Cuneo back in 2006 they would give me a funny look,” she recalls. But that’s no longer the case. “More than 15 carriers have chosen our airport since those early days. On a personal level that’s a great achievement and even now, when I look at an airline’s route map and see the dot that signifies Cuneo it gives me a thrill.”

Of course, there are still plenty of challenges to come as the airport continues to work on boosting passenger numbers and air traffic. “Increasing traffic and airline activity at Cuneo, creating employment opportunities for the next generation and inspiring them to work in the airport sector, while demonstrating to those living locally how many opportunities (both in terms of tourism and the economy) the airport can offer is all part of the day job.”

But, it’s a job Milanese is only too happy to accept, as she concludes she will never tire of “seeking out and working with new airlines to ensure they add a little dot for Cuneo on their network map!”

To find out more about flying to Cuneo Airport, click here.

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